My first sports writing job in Detroit was with the Detroit Free Press. The paper wanted to develop young talent that would go on to bigger and better things.
I was one of those people and my first assignment was covering prep sports in Macomb County, Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe. That is where I met Frank Sumbera, who was one of the nicest and most successful football and baseball coaches I’d encounter.
He always greeted you with an hand shake, smile and a story. He loved his job. He loved his kids and he loved to shoot the breeze. I made it to a number of Grosse Pointe North baseball and football games because the teams were good and the coach knew what he was doing.
Now Frank Sumbera is no longer employed at North although he is the third winningest baseball coach in state history (1,097 wins) and has more than 200 victories in football . He was fired although administrators want you to believe he walked away on his own.
One of two things happened. This gentle giant turned into a troll over the years or parents bitched about little Johnny not getting enough playing time or complained that Sumbera turned evil while trying to get the best out of his kids.
I don’t usually sign petitions, but I signed an online petition asking Grosse Pointe North administrators to rehire Sumbera. This man coached with class and had the respect of fellow coaches in the area.
Sumbera told Dave Goricki of The Detroit News that he was fired after administrators received complaints from parents who said he caused mental anguish to athletes and basically turned into a monster.
I just don’t believe it. That is not the man I knew. I knew Frank Sumbera, the kind gentleman. Did he get on players if they did not meet expectations? Yep. That’s what I would expect a great coach to do.
Varsity athletics are not rec leagues.
I am not going to dog parents that have problems with coaches. I was one of those parents when my daughter Celine played soccer at West Bloomfield High School. The coach said she was not one of his top 12 players and wasn’t even close. He made her a reserve. I knew in my heart that she was the best player on the team and if she started West Bloomfield was a much better team.
Despite being the second leading scorer her freshman season and outscoring both starters combined, she was benched. So I bitched and told the coach and administrators that if Celine started then West Bloomfield would win its division.
She finally got her chance to start her junior year only because four starters were injured. But Celine was upset. As soon as the injuries healed the plan was to bench her again.
I told her they could not bench her if she were the leading scorer on the team. She scored the first goal of the season and the game-winning goal in the championship game against Birmingham Seaholm, which WBHS won. She made All League, All District and All County. She scored 14 goals. The second highest scorer tallied five goals.
So coaches make mistakes and I believe parents have a right to complain. GPN parents are being portrayed as people who want their precious kids to be treated with kid gloves.
If they have legitimate concerns they should be heard. Sumbera should also be heard and his accusers should have to face him in an open forum. Let’s get it all out in the open.
Don’t stab the man in the heart in a dark back ally.
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